Christian Superstition

Don't shoot me because I'm reading a book co-authored by Ehrman, okay? I may be nothing but a lowly sidekick, but I am a sidekick, and you don't want the Turk to open a can of baptism all over you.

That said, this morning I took great interest in a portion from The Text of the New Testament (p. 49-50):
Finally, a curious but unimportant source of our knowledge of the Greek text of the New Testament consists of a number of talismans, or good-luck charms. These amulets range in date from the fourth to the twelfth or thirteenth centuries and are made of vellum, papyrus, potsherd, or wood. The superstitious use of talismans, so prevalent in the ancient world, was scarcely less popular among Christians than among pagans--if we may judge from repeated remonstrances against them issued by ecclesiastical authorities. Four of those catalogued contain the Lord's prayer, and five others include scattered verses from other parts of the Old and New Testaments.
You can go read something more relevant now, since this post won't apply to you. You and I are well above superstition, of course, being the modern enlightened Reformed-type Christians we are. We laugh at Romanists who see Mary in their dryer lint, and send missionaries to the benighted savage who worships lizards.

"Lord, we thank thee that we are not as other men are."

This ancient practice of Christian superstition is interesting. The use of amulets, magic charms, potions and the like are all part of our insatiable drive to control our own destinies. The Tower fell, but we've never stopped trying to rebuild it. When the Greco-Romans made the switch to Christianity, the traditions of manipulation died very hard--and Scripture became the new portal to power.

It would be very easy at this juncture to launch into a tirade against angel pins and horribly decontextualized Scripture art (my favorite being Genesis 31:49). Certainly, these are no more honoring to Christ than carrying around the Lord's Prayer to ward off bad luck. But I'm interested first in considering what superstition is. Or perhaps more to the point, what Christian superstition is.

Think about it this way. Scripture was never intended to keep vampires away, right? So if you drill a hole through your pocket New Testament and string it around your neck, you're using Scripture for a purpose which God never intended His Word to accomplish. That's a severe misunderstanding of Scripture's purpose (not to mention a sign you've had a little too much Buffy lately). In other words, that's Christian superstition: using Scripture to achieve a goal beyond its intended purpose and redounding to our own benefit.

I submit that the church is drunk and drowning from Christian superstition. One has only to crack the latest edition of CBD's catalog to be crushed by the avalanche of "God wants you to be happy" bookettes. Most of them include little verses ripped from their contexts, folded into paper swans, and set sail on the sea of superstition. Promises of aid to the righteous are transformed into ironclad guarantees of wealth. Warnings of purging through fiery trials, if acknowledged at all, become vague warnings of "everyone has problems, but God will help you out because He still wants you to be happy and wealthy and successful." If all you had by which to judge Christianity was the majority of today's best-sellers, you'd think Christ died to redeem us from discomfort.

It's round Scripture crammed into a square hole.

That's Christian superstition.

I've got to pause here and say that righteous indignation is a sweet, sweet feeling. I like feeling superior to the unwashed masses of Christendom, knowing that I use Scripture exactly as it was intended. For instance, I hide God's Word in my heart that I might not fall behind on my daily reading schedule. I search the Scriptures daily to see if these things can be used against my opponent, who needs a severe and very public pounding. I study to show myself approved to my peers, a hypocrite who feels no shame, rightly dividing the latest liberal nonsense. The Word of God truly is sharper than any two-edged sword, occasionally nicking my skin.

Look: God forbid I should ever have magic charms engraved with verses, or be a sloppy evangelical who can't tell a pretext from a context. But God also forbid I should be equally superstitious with my love for sound doctrine. Scripture is meant to make me look like Jesus, and part of that is getting the message right. I can't be like Jesus if I don't understand what He's saying. But if I twist the Bible to achieve intellectual superiority or systematic pride, I am no less superstitious than a guy fingering a charm or reciting The Prayer of Jabez.

God didn't give us Scripture to make us smug.

He gave it to make us holy.

Is it working?